Monday, 11 March 2013

A Glimpse of the Tropics

A bitterly north-easterly wind is bringing in flurries of snow, effectively putting paid to any ideas of gardening or, indeed, almost any outdoor work. And yet, only 48 hours ago I was in Leamington photographing Bird of Paradise flowers, Strelitzia reginae. The plants, under glass of course, were in Jephson Gardens. I recall seeing them being sold in huge numbers in the market at Funchal, in Madeira, where the mild climate allows them to be grown out of doors. These strange plants are related to bananas and, for a long time, were placed in the same family, the Musaceae. However the differences are significant enough for Bird of Paradise Plants to be now placed in a separate family, the Strelitziaceae. Last time I was in Milton Keynes I noticed that a close relative, Strelitzia nicolai, was being grown in the main shopping mall. It is a much taller plant with blue and grey-white flowers which are, to my mind, a more subtle colouring than its brash little relative. Though tree-like in proportions, these plants are, like bananas, technically herbs. 

The genus, from South Africa, commemorates Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wife of King George III of Britain.
Bird of Paradise plants, Leamington, 9 March, 2013

Jephson Gardens are full of interesting plants and many, such as Christmas Box, (Sarcococca confusa), a Flowering Currant, (Ribes sanguineum White Icicle) and (under glass) a lovely small tree, Albizia julibrissin, were in flower. Sadly nothing seemed to be labelled, probably leaving many visitors unable to name these lovely plants. All these species are hardy although the Albizia needs a warm, south-facing wall. I brought seed of this tree, sometimes called the Persian Silk Tree,  back from a visit to the Canary Islands and managed to raise three seedlings but failed to provide them with the conditions they required.

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